David James Swanson

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Having spent 25 years fronting some of the most energetic and immersive bands in the rock genre, Alison Mosshart has stepped into the spotlight with "Rise".

It feels almost hard to believe that even with 25 years in the music scene, fronting bands such as Discount and The Kills, serving as a member of The Dead Weather, and working with some of music’s biggest names, we’ve had to wait until 2020 to receive the first solo single from Alison Mosshart.

No stranger to the world of music, Mosshart is a prolific artist whose resumé is enough to make any seasoned musician jealous. However, with so many achievements over the last quarter-century, it’s only been this month that the artist stepped out into the spotlight to record a single under her own name.

Written for the final episode of the second season of Facebook Watch drama Sacred Lies, “Rise” is a slow-burning track which could easily serve as one of the finest additions to Mosshart’s already-admirable discography.

Accompanying the track with a self-made music video, Mosshart has undoubtedly been busy in recent times, despite the COVID-19 pandemic putting a temporary halt to recording plans for a new album from The Kills.

Speaking from her Nashville home, Mosshart recently spoke with Rolling Stone Australia to give a deeper insight into what went into the recording of her debut single, the creation of its accompanying music video, and some of the other projects she’s got in the pipeline.

You’ve recently released your debut solo single, “Rise”, you must be feeling quite proud of that at the moment?

I feel very happy, yeah. I feel really glad to have a new song out there floating around in the world, especially right now.

Exactly, it gives people something to listen to in the current time.

There’s no end of things to listen to, but it’s just a nice feeling to have something new, and I never expected the world to be like this, when this came out. It’s certainly keeping me busy, which I’m thankful.

What were the origins of “Rise”? How did you end your first solo debut end up on Sacred Lies?

Many months ago – not “many” months ago, but last year at some point – the people from Sacred Lies got in touch with me and asked if I’d like to write a song for the show. And it was quite particular. The song needed to have a certain feel, and it needed to be a song that sort of sounded ‘classic’, and all the different characters could sing in sort of different ways; almost like a song you could melt into different genres and stuff.

So, when I was sitting there and I was reading the script, I remembered this song that I’d written in 2013, and I can’t believe it was that long ago. I was going through my stuff and I was listening to that, and I thought, “Maybe I don’t have to write something, maybe this is it.” So I sent over a demo of it to them, and they heard it and they loved it, so I worked on it a little bit more, and then that was that.

I wasn’t supposed to record it or anything, they were going to have the characters sing it, so I just needed to tell them how it went. Then a few months passed and when they were getting done with filming and everything, they decided they’d really like a version that I did to play in the final episode.

So they asked me if I’d like to go and record it, and of course I would love to go and record anything at any time [laughs]. So I got in the studio and did my version of it, and then Laurence [Bell] at Domino [Recording Company] heard it and really loved it and wanted to release it, so that’s basically how it all happened. There was no plan, y’know, it just sort of…

It just sort of happened.

Yeah, that’s it [laughs]. That’s how the song just sort of came out.

Press photo of Alison Mosshart

Alison Mosshart accompanied the release of “Rise” with a music video, made after days learning the ropes of iMove. (Photo by David James Swanson)

What was the experience of “Rise” like? Did it give you a greater sense of freedom going it alone, or was it a bit more constrictive considering you had some guidelines to follow?

I didn’t really have any guidelines to follow, not when it came to recording my version. I could record it exactly how I envisioned it, so it was quite liberating. I’d gone to the premiere and I’d seen those two episodes that I had read, and listened to all the characters singing it constantly, and it was amazing, such a strange thing to see and hear.

But it was pretty awesome, I can’t really relate that experience to anything else. But it was really fun to get to do my own.

It must be quite strange looking back at how things were when you first entered the music world, compared to now. After all, you likely wouldn’t have assumed a song that you wrote would be featured on a series broadcast on a social media website?

I don’t think anyone thinks in terms of that. I mean, plenty of music that I’ve written has showed up in movie and TV, but that was really interesting to have other characters perform it. That was cool.

Obviously you’ve been predominantly performing with bands for decades now, but is this set to be a one-off thing, or would you look at doing more solo work down the line?

I mean, I love recording and I have lots of songs, so if something comes up, I’ll do it. It’s quite expensive these days to go and record properly, and so usually there needs to be some sort of rhyme or reason.

But I’m definitely a huge fan of being in bands – I love being in bands – and right now I’m in the middle of writing a Kills record with Jamie [Hince], so there’s not really this big plan for this.

You mentioned that “Rise” dates back to around 2013, but is there a chance we would get to hear more music from this era in the future? Or could this material maybe find its way out in other projects you work on?

Both, and that happens all the time with stuff I wrote a long time ago. Jamie will find it and say “We should do this“, many years later. All these things, they kind of gradually find a home if they’re worth it, if they’re good enough. But yeah, yes to all of that, I love going through… It’s kind of like a treasure trove because you forget that you did it, because I write every day and I demo every day, and then I swiftly move right on and kind of forget about stuff.

It always sounds nice when you have time away from it – you don’t recognise that headspace you were in, so it’s interesting. The way I would write in 2013 is perhaps quite different to how I would write now, so it’s fun. It’s fun hearing that stuff and getting back into that different zone.

It would be almost like finding a new song from yourself, wouldn’t it? Which is something you wouldn’t often get to experience.

Yeah, you’re like “Thank you!” [laughs]. It’s a little surprise, it’s like you hid something in your house and you found it almost ten years later, and you’re like, “Cool!” [laughs].

“Rise” has also been accompanied by a music video which you made yourself. What was it like getting into the world of video editing?

I mean, [laughs] it was a total headfuck. It was really, really awesome. That experience was awesome. I mean, I quite loved that challenge because suddenly, y’know, we were weeks away from release and obviously I couldn’t go shoot a video with anybody and so I thought it would be really fun to make one.

And I didn’t have anything else to learn that day, so I got really obsessed with iMovie, figured out pretty quickly all of its many limitations, spent a lot of time watching tutorials – which is something in normal life I would never have the patience to do. Suddenly, I’m just listening to these [tutorials] like “Huh, really? Okay.”

It was really fun, it was actually really fun, and I was so lucky to have that lowrider footage, because a couple of weeks prior – not even a couple of weeks prior – I was in LA and I went to East LA with a couple of friends to see these lowriders that apparently cruise every Friday in different locations, it’s kind of a secret.

And they do this, like the families come out and everybody is around, asking questions and looking at the cars, and they just cruise – it’s so cool. And I brought my video camera, hoping I could film some of it, and I did. This is a video camera I had just bought recently and hadn’t quite figured out how to use, and so that was my first experimental, y’know, “How does this thing turn on? Is it filming? I have no idea.”

So all the footage you see in the video is pretty much all the good footage there is, the rest of it is a total nightmare. But I had that, I came back armed with that, never thinking it would be on a video. But then when it came time to do it, all of that was on my camera and I thought that’s pretty perfect.

So I started with that, edited it together, and then I filmed myself in my house singing the song a couple of times, and then spent the next four days just in editing hell, trying to work out how to edit. But I learned a lot, it was great.

Considering how difficult it can be to learn a new skill such as video editing, the end result looks quite amazing.

I was like, “Is this watchable? I don’t know.” But people seem to like it, which makes me really happy, ’cause I had so much fun doing it. It was so frustrating as well, but frustrating in that good way that has just made me want to make millions of videos now – I love it.

So future projects might see you taking on the video editing role, will it?

I thin I like it a lot [laughs]. It’s the most perfect lockdown activity you could have. You just go down the rabbit hole and you don’t come out for days, and you’re like, “It doesn’t matter, does it? There’s nowhere else I need to be.” It’s great.

Was there anything you were particularly aiming for in terms of how you wanted it to look like?

I was just so blown away by the coincidence that I had just gone to a lowrider thing and I had this footage, and they’re all going up and down in these cars, and it’s such a beautiful scene. And I felt like it was perfect thematically. to use that. I was just trying to make a music video that looked great and made some semblance of sense.

This is how I would describe the process of it: it was like making a fanzine and using a copy machine that’s sort of half out of toner. And you don’t really know what you’re going to get, but the mistakes are beautiful, and you build off these beautiful sequences that are working, and it kind of just led me… If I had had an exact idea of how I wanted it to be beforehand, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that, not with those limitations.

It was more like making a moving painting or something. I thought of it more sculpturally, or more like visual art than an actual… I mean, what is a music video supposed to be? I mean, I don’t know.

Press photo of Alison Mosshart

Alison Mosshart released her debut solo single, “Rise”, earlier this month. (Photo by Alison Mosshart & David James Swanson)

This sort of ties into my next question, which is about your upcoming book Car Ma. You’ve obviously grown up around cars, but what is it that inspired you to take your passions and put them on the page?

I was home when I started doing it and I had just done an arts show in LA that had a lot of cars in it, because the arts show was kind of about LA and LA just has that super car culture, where there’s just cool cars everywhere you look. So I was kind of hot off the back of that show, doing that show, painting that show, and I came home and I’m like, “What am I going to do now?” And I was asked to do a fanzine that was car-based; it was an art project that was happening at Dover Street Market in Los Angeles.

So I set out to do this fanzine, which is supposed to be about 15 pages, and I kind of look up a month later and it’s 112, and I was like, “Guys, this isn’t a fanzine, it’s a book.” It caused all sorts of problems; getting it printed, all these things I just didn’t think about because I just couldn’t stop making it. In the process I noticed, y’know, since I was a kid I’ve always taken pictures, collected pictures, drawn cars, and been drawn to them.

I love them, I think they’re beautiful and sexy, and that kind of adventurous spirit. I mean, I’m on tour for a living so I live in a moving vehicle. And I grew up around cars – my dad’s a used car dealer, so there was a different car in the driveway every day.

If someone said “Could you make a book about condiments” or something that is not that exciting to me, it would be really hard, but that, I could do Volume Two, Volume Three, Volume Four, Volume Five, I mean, the amount of stuff I have that fits that scenario is kind of obscene. So it was a joy, and that books comes back out again on Third Man [Records] this summer, I can’t remember the exact date, like June or July… or August [laughs], one of the summer months.

To accompany it, I did a spoken-word record which is kind of more of an experimental… Just like a sonic version of the book, and it is super strange. But again, the book was so exciting and I took it somewhere else entirely.

I mean there’s characters and they’re singing, and there’s noises, and there’s all sorts of… It was just like audio art. That was really fun to do – really complicated, but fun. So that comes out and I’m excited. It might be too bizarre, or not bizarre… I don’t know, I have no idea what that thing is [laughs]. I’m just excited it’s coming out.

So this new project will be coming out alongside Car Ma?

I mean, they’re separate, but yeah, they’re coming out at the same time. The record is called Sound Wheel.

It definitely sounds quite intriguing based on your description of it.

We’ll see. When I was doing it, it made me laugh so hard, but I was like, “This could be a career ruiner.” It’s like, I’m talking in voices… What I realised was that when I started doing it, it was just so boring to straight read. I couldn’t handle that, after about five minutes I was like, “No, this had to be something else.” So it’s just strange interpretations of the stuff that’s written.

It’s not necessarily my voice, but it is, but it’s not [laughs]. It wouldn’t have been the same feeling as if I read it. I don’t know, it’s going to be a tough one if anyone asks me any questions about it down the line, I’ll throw my hands up; I don’t know what I did.

Well that’s how some of the best art is created; going into it blind and not knowing what will come out of the other end.

It’s a good spirit to follow. Just wait and see what it’s like when you’re done and be like, “Huh?! What did you do?” [laughs]. That’s kind of what it’s like.

You mentioned before that you’re working towards new music for The Kills as well. Are there any updates you can give as to when fans might be able to expect something there? Or are things a little up in the wait with the current situation?

Yeah, everything’s up in the air, y’know? I can’t get to California to work with Jamie, so we are sending stuff to each other back and forth, which is really how The Kills started in the first place, so we’re used to that process, that’s okay. But we were really on a great roll when I was in LA. We were hanging out every day and working and it was awesome, and we were kind of making leaps and bounds with songs.

It’s kind of weird, I think when I start to get through the shock of all of this… I think we’re both kind of in a state of shock, and everyone else in the world is, so there’s that kind of feeling. We’re working on stuff, but it certainly doesn’t feel as though I can focus too much on that at the moment.

It’s strange, I’ve been really obsessed with doing things like drawing the news. I sit and watch the news and draw the news all night. That’s coming naturally to me, making videos is coming naturally to me. Painting, playing guitar, and cleaning; today I cleaned the ceiling. I mean, have you ever cleaned the ceiling?

I had never thought about it until now. But to be honest, it looks like it might need it.

Well, think about it, it’s something to do [laughs].

So obviously the Coronavirus pandemic and lockdown is seeing you move in directions you haven’t before?

Yeah, but you know what? I think it’s really cool, because this time, it’s so hyper-focused and I’m diving into all this stuff, and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t learn something or think about something on a deeper level that I hadn’t really had time to. Reading, looking through books, listening to records, and I mean really listening to them.

Even though we’re all in this state of pause, I don’t think my mind is at all, and I think that on the other side of this when I’m unleashed and can go and work, it’s going to be great. There’ll be so much to pull from, so I’m trusting in that, because that’s how I really feel right now.

It’s interesting, because everyone is in homeschool right now, it doesn’t matter how old you are. It’s a cool time, as dark as it is.

Alison Mosshart’s debut single “Rise” is out now via Domino Recording Company.

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